Most of the laws passed during the last Idaho legislative session will take effect Wednesday.

Lawmakers from eastern Idaho sponsored some of the most controversial and significant bills of the 2020 session — including ones limiting changes to birth certificates and barring transgender women and girls from female high school and college sports teams for which the state is now being sued — and one that for the first time ever sets a minimum marriage age in Idaho. Another law, banning the use of a handheld cellphone while driving statewide, was partially driven by the growing number of municipalities, including Pocatello and Idaho Falls, that had been passing local ordinances in the absence of state action. 

Another law that drew a good deal of attention this year, one successfully pushed by Idaho Falls businessman Frank VanderSloot putting limits on medical debt collection, won't take effect until Jan. 1, 2021.

Cellphones

Starting July 1, using a handheld cellphone while driving will be illegal statewide, but you won't get a ticket for it yet.

This law comes after several failed attempts to pass a statewide ban during previous legislative sessions. The new state law overrides the existing local bans and replaces a little-enforced 2012 law that only banned texting while driving. It contains exemptions for using a phone on hands-free mode, reporting an emergency and for first responders performing their duties.

"Education of motorists is key," said Col. Kedrick Wills, director of the Idaho State Police. "Idahoans want to be responsible and to be good drivers. This law is another way to remind all of us we need to pay attention to the road when we're behind the wheel. As law enforcement, we can remind them with education or enforcement. We're starting with what we prefer, education."

In that spirit, the law tells police only to issue warnings until Jan. 1, 2021, at which point anyone using a handheld cellphone while driving could receive a ticket. The penalties are a $75 fine for the first offense and $150 for a second. A third offense within three years means a $300 fine and potential license suspension of up to 90 days.

Transgender laws

Two of the most controversial laws of this year's legislative session take effect Wednesday.

House Bill 500 or the Fairness in Women's Sports Act, bars transgender girls and women from playing on female high school and college sports teams. House Bill 509 or the Idaho Vital Statistics Act, requires a court order for most changes to a birth certificate and sets up limited criteria to obtain a court order to do so, effectively barring transgender people from easily changing their birth certificates to match their gender identity.

Transgender issues dominated much of the 2020 legislative session, pitting Idaho’s socially conservative super-majority Republican Legislature against civil rights groups and members of the transgender community. Both laws are being challenged in court.

House Bill 509, which was sponsored by Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, was passed in response to a 2018 federal court order saying the state could not summarily deny transgender people's applications to change their sex on their birth certificates, which overturned a previous policy and allowed such changes for the first time. U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale ruled a month ago that her 2018 injunction still applies, although she hasn't ruled yet on the constitutionality of House Bill 509. The bill's supporters said the state has an interest in keeping vital records that accurately reflect sex at the time of birth.

The state Department of Health and Welfare will still process applications to change birth certificates, but as of Wednesday, per the law, these applications must also include a court order, said DHW spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr. Peter Renn, a lawyer for the pro-gay and transgender rights groups Lambda Legal that successfully challenged the previous policy and is now challenging House Bill 509 in court, said this standard would "absolutely not be in compliance with the injunction."

"The government is essentially enforcing a standard that is impossible for transgender people to meet," he said.

Renn said he expects the court to hear further arguments on the bill in mid-July at the earliest.

"Despite the court making clear that its injunction applies to this new law, the government was undeterred and basically decided to proceed notwithstanding the court's order," Renn said. "That, to me, is unconscionable to be honest. It's shocking to see government officials behave in this way and to flout the obligations of a federal injunction. A federal injunction trumps state law, that's how our system of law works. They are clearly choosing to follow state law even though it conflicts with a federal injunction."

The state of California has banned most state-funded travel to Idaho over the two bills, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association is expected to consider in August whether to move the men's basketball championship games planned to be held at Boise State University in March 2021 in response to House Bill 500. Supporters of the bill, which was sponsored by former college basketball coach Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, say it protects women and girls from unfair competition against athletes who were born male.

Child marriage

Idaho now has a minimum marriage age of 16.

The new law, which was sponsored by Ehardt and Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, also will limit 16- and 17-year-olds to marrying partners within three years of their age. Idaho had no minimum marriage age before; children under 16 were allowed to marry if a judge signed off. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds will still be able to marry with parental consent.

Many other states have, like Idaho, tightened up their child marriage laws in recent years, although so far only four states have gone so far as to ban all marriage outright for people under 18. The bill passed the Legislature overwhelmingly, after a similar bill sponsored by Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, failed in 2019. The main difference between the new law and Wintrow’s failed proposal is that hers would have required a judge's sign-off for a 16- or 17-year-old to marry.

Renters laws

A law setting a more uniform statewide eviction process takes effect Wednesday.

Sponsored by Rep. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, and Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, the bill gives residential tenants 72 hours to move their belongings out of their home after an eviction and gives commercial tenants a week. It also would allow landlords to move any belongings left in a property after an eviction themselves.

"This bill clears up a ton of ambiguity, protects tenant’s rights before and during an eviction hearing, and empowers landlords to take quick action post hearing if they win in court," said Brian Stutzman, an Idaho Falls resident and landlord who worked closely on the bill.

Letting landlords remove property instead of requiring them hire a moving company and pay the county sheriff to have an auction will reduce costs for landlords, Stutzman said.

"Lower operating costs should result in lower rents," Stutzman said. "Everyone wins. And if someone needs extra time to get out, they can ask a judge to postpone his ruling so the three-day clock to get out starts a little later."

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.